Kootenai County sheriff candidate Richard Whitehead filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in Texas in 2005.
The Republican said he's still qualified for the position because of financial strides he’s made since.
"During the past 14 years I have moved forward, and I currently maintain a credit score of 801, and I have zero debt," Whitehead wrote in an email to The Press.
Whitehead said the credit score was provided to him by his bank about a month ago. He declined to provide a copy of the credit report to The Press for verification. A credit score of 800 to 850 is considered excellent.
After The Press asked Whitehead a series of questions related to the bankruptcy, including whether he has any other financial background that voters may be interested in, he issued a written statement and declined to comment further.
"My bankruptcy in 2005 is directly related to a divorce during the same timeframe and upon advice of legal counsel," he wrote. "Both decisions difficult, not entered into lightly, and personal.
"My law enforcement career spans 33-plus years, including 20-plus years as a business owner, and both maintained in the highest professionalism, having attained command rank, managed multimillion-dollar budgets and managed personnel, both officers and civilians without flaw. I have experienced personal difficulties, though these issues did not detract or impact my leadership and professional responsibilities. This experience was extremely humbling and has made me more compassionate and understanding when I see others with similar struggles."
Whitehead owns a public-safety training and consulting firm. He served in the Army as a military policeman before working his way up the ranks in law enforcement in Baytown, Texas, near Houston, and the Travis County (Texas) Sheriff's Office.
Chapter 7 bankruptcy centers on asset liquidation and is the simplest and most common form of bankruptcy. If the debtor has assets not protected by an exemption, a court-appointed trustee may sell the assets and distribute the net proceeds to creditors.
According to Whitehead's bankruptcy filing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the West District of Texas in Austin, Whitehead had $74,574 in unsecured debt. None of it was unpaid medical expenses.
Whitehead is one of four Republicans who have announced their candidacy for sheriff in 2020. The others are Kim Edmondson, Bob Norris and John Grimm. Scott Jones recently dropped out of the race. Sheriff candidates can't officially file until March 2 to March 13, 2020.
Sheriff Ben Wolfinger announced in early 2018 that he would not seek another term. His salary is $86,996. He oversees a budget of $26.9 million.
Whitehead's opponents had mixed reactions to Whitehead's bankruptcy.
Norris said that bankruptcy, especially Chapter 7, is a serious factor that can’t and shouldn’t be overlooked with elected officials.
“Law enforcement applicants with a history of financial problems are not hired because of risk management concerns for the county and taxpayers,” Norris said. “If you’re already a deputy, you cannot work sensitive cases for fear of being compromised by criminal elements. Whitehead would not be able to receive secret or sensitive information from a local, state or federal investigation that involves Kootenai County.
“A leader sets an example for the men and women of the organization and it is impossible for him to set that example with our fine sheriff’s office. Given that this information was not disclosed by Whitehead going back to his (Post Falls) city council candidacy back in 2017, what other troubling information is Whitehead holding from his supporters and Kootenai County residents?”
"There are many unfortunate reasons why a person might file for bankruptcy, and I can’t speak to any of the reasons why Mr. Whitehead may have had to do so," Edmondson said. "However, generally speaking, bankruptcies are sometimes an indication of one’s ability to manage finances, and that is something voters should have concern over."
Grimm said he didn't believe it would be appropriate to comment on Whitehead’s bankruptcy.
Grimm, Norris and Edmondson told The Press that they have not had any financial blemishes such as bankruptcies or liens.